Guest Post: Root Beer Mania

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Side note: So today is a guest post by my beau about his “root-beer crafting excursion”.  His links are attached for ease of use only so that you can replicate his results.  He’s found that while the company has a few issues with back-orders of spices, the quality is the best he’s found so far.  Believe me, the results are worth replicating.  They make the best root beer floats ever.  Here we go:

Making root beer is a good starter activity for those of you who want to brew beer because most of the techniques are the same, but it is much faster (and people don’t frown upon drinking the results at lunchtime).

So first the step is the ingredients:

I get all of my roots and my yeast from Midwest Brewing .  I find that they provide excellent quality at a reasonable price, and they sell all the spices you could ever need.  I inherited my brewing supplies from my father who used to home brew before (four) kids, but I’ll provide links to where you can buy them online although I support going to your local brew store if there is one.  The local shops should be able to talk you can give advice, guide you through set-up and potentially help trouble-shoot.

The recipe:

Roots:

Vanilla Beans – 1 oz.                                          $5.99                     Ordered: 1

Indian Sarsaparilla- 2 oz                                 $2.99                     Ordered: 1

Star Anise- 1 oz                                                   $2.75                     Ordered: 1

Licorice Root- 1 oz                                            $2.25                     Ordered: 1

Wintergreen Leaves- 1 oz.                             $2.25                     Ordered: 4

Cinnamon Sticks- 1 oz                                      $1.99                     Ordered: 1

Ginger Root – 1 oz.                                             $1.99                     Ordered: 1

Other Stuff:

Nylon Boiling bag 8 x 9 in.                             $4.25                     Ordered: 1

                *Note- These are wonderful, but you burn through them after a while, so I had to reorder

Yeast:

White Labs English Ale Yeast WL002         $6.50                     Ordered: 1

Deluxe Yeast shipping Packet                        $1.75                     Ordered: 1

With S&H, this came to a total of $51.85, for 60 bottles of root beer, so at 86 cents a bottle it’s a bit cheaper than buying at the store, and so much tastier.

I also bought 6 gallons of water.  I prefer to buy the water because it’s been sterilized and doesn’t contain fluorine, both important qualities for water which will be used for brewing.

You’ll also need 5 pounds of sugar (yes, that’s a lot, you can tone it down to taste but I like mine a bit sweeter)

The brew:

Timing: You’ll let the brew ferment for 12 hours after adding the yeast before bottling, so I prefer to start the brew in the afternoon, which gives it time to cool, add the yeast at night, and then bottle it the next morning, but plan accordingly.

First: put your five pounds of sugar into a big pot.  I use a 16 quart stockpot, but the bigger the better.

Then, add water until about 2/3 full.  I added a full two gallons.

Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, and then turn on the heat to bring it to a boil.  While you’re waiting for the water sugar/water mixture to boil assemble your root pack.  Take all the spices you ordered (see ingredients list above) except the star anise and the vanilla bean and add them to the nylon boiling bag.  Prep the star anise  by taking a few pods of anise and add these.  If you add the whole pack you’ll end up with anise beer and not root beer.  Then take the vanilla beans and cut them lengthwise to expose the seeds.  Add the cut pods to the bag and tie the bag off.  Make sure you do a good job tying the bag shut, because straining out wintergreen leaves from your brew is no fun.

The spices!

Spice Bag

Once your sugar water is boiling nicely, suspend the root bag in the pot making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom (shouldn’t be a big problem because it tends to float; the bag will burn if it settles on the bottom and you’ll be back to filtering out leaves which I can assure you from personal experience is an undesirable outcome).

Dip Dip!

Now let the pot simmer with the root bag in it for a half hour, kind of like a huge pot of tea.

Bubble Bubble Bubble. . .

While that’s boiling up, sterilize your brew bucket and air lock.  You’ll also need a stopper for later on.

To sterilize, I use a small amount of bleach.  The danger with bleach is that if you don’t get it all away from your brew, it’ll taste funky.  So once you’ve washed with a bit of bleach in water, rinse rinse rinse.  If you can still smell bleach, rinse again.  Pour a bit of water into the bucket and take it out and drink it.  If it tastes ‘off’, rinse more.  Once the bucket is clean and the bleach is gone, then you’re ready to go.  This step is quite important to do right because contaminant organisms (yeasts or bacteria) will really foul up your brew, so sterile is the word from here on out (it didn’t matter so much in the previous steps because the boiling sterilized everything for us).

So pour the remaining four gallons of store bought water into the bucket and then pour the pot of sugar root water into the bucket.  It should be this (photo below) glorious amber color and have a nice smell of root beer.

ROOT BEER!

Now something you’ll notice is that this brew is still hot.  There are ways to cool it down (like with a wort chiller) but I find the best way to cool it is to put the top on the bucket and a piece of aluminum foil over the hole (to keep dust and airborne contaminants out) and let it sit for a few hours until it’s about room temp or a bit warmer.

After your brew has cooled down, it’s time to add the yeast.  I get a liquid culture because I think it works better, but dry cultures are fine.  Just pour the yeast into the brew and let the magic happen.

Yeasty goodness

Once the yeast is added, put the airlock on the top and fill the airlock reservoir with vodka (high alcohol content = very nice and sterile; also, vodka is safe to ingest – don’t use rubbing alcohol or other alcohols that could potentially give you a stomach ache rather than a headache).  Then let sit for 12 hours for the yeast to start to grow.  The yeast is what will give the root beer carbonation and help the flavors develop.

Bubble bubble bubble

Once twelve hours have passed, it’s time to bottle.  Sanitize with bleach and copious rinsing about 65 standard 12 oz beer bottles.  I’ve slowly collected my set of bottles.  They get re-used each time I brew a new batch of root beer.

Bottles

Now the question is: how do I get the root beer from the bucket into the bottles?  I find that the best way to do this is with a bottle filler and siphon setup.  The bottle filler allows you to keep the siphon pressure up between bottles without spilling by having a plug at the bottom that you release by pressing it against the bottom of the bottle.  This allows you to shut off the root beer flow when you raise the filler from the bottom of the bottle so you don’t waste any liquid when you switch out bottles.

This part really works better with a partner in crime.  Have one person hold the open end of the tubing a bit off of the bottom of the bucket (which is resting on a table).  You don’t want to dredge the bottom because that’s where the dead yeast gathers and you’ll be getting plenty of that in the bottles already.  Then the bottle filler (presumably you) should start the siphon by pushing up on the plug of the bottle filler and sucking on it until the root beer starts flowing.  This may take a few tries to get right, but isn’t too hard with some practice.

Once you’ve got the siphon all ready to go, press it against the bottom of your first bottle and watch the wondrous root beer fill up the bottle.  Pull the filler out of the bottle once the root beer has almost reached the top.  When you remove the filler this will leave the perfect amount of room in the bottle.  Continue to fill all the bottles until you run out of root beer.  Now it’s time to cap the bottles.

Now I use my dad’s old capper, but if you don’t have one you can get one for relatively cheap, and they last forever.  If you like doing this, invest in a good capper because it speeds up the process dramatically.  Since caps are one time use only, unlike the bottles, you have to get new ones each time.

Just put the cap on the top of the bottle, put the bottle and cap in the capper and press down.  It’ll crimp the cap securely on the top of the bottle.

Capping

Capped!

Once you’re done capping, before you do anything else, clean up.  Without a doubt, you will spill some soda and if you don’t clean it up quickly you will be left with a horrible sticky mess in an hour or two.  (Note from Michelle: Ants will praise you as if you were their personal demi-god).

Clean time

Now, just set the bottles somewhere to ferment for at least 48 hours to build up carbonation.  After all this work, you’ll be tempted to drink it right away but resist the temptation, the rewards are worth it.

Bottles

After 48 hours, pour over nice in a fancy-schmancy beer glass and enjoy the fruits of your labor with some class.  When you pour out of the bottle (and I recommend you do serve it in a glass) make sure to not pour out the very bottom of the bottle because that’s where the dead yeast resides and although it wouldn’t hurt you to drink the yeast, I prefer not to.

Root beer!

 Final Note from Michelle:  while my beau has worked with this recipe several times, please consider opening the first bottle or two over the sink.  Root beer can over-carbonate and when it does, the liquid shoots out of the bottle the same way champagne will if the champagne is openly improperly or overly agitated.  If this happens, chill the root beer thoroughly before opening.  You will probably still need to open the bottle over the sink but the cold temperature helps to reduce the ‘bursting’.

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